The East Village Will Never Be as Cool as It Was—but at Least There’s the Food and Drink

east village
Today the old East Village energy is manifested, mainly, in the options for eating and drinking. Proletariat, above, provides a wide range of options for craft beer beginners and nerds. Photo credit Matt Furman

Is the East Village dead? The answer differs depending upon whom you ask. As a kid growing up on Long Island, the neighborhood around Tompkins Square Park represented everything cool: Jeff Buckley was photographed in the fountain. Jean-Michel Basquiat slept on the benches. But I might have been born after its prime. Former Village Voice senior art critic and writer Gary Indiana, in the introduction to his collected essays, Vile Days: The Village Voice Art Columns 1985–1988, points to a few little deaths, spurred by literal murders or various galleries or the building of NYU dorms.

“I still live in the East Village,” he writes, “but now I live in a luxury neighborhood, thanks mostly to an insignificant hiccup in the long burp of art history that created a seismic shift in New York property values.” I now work in the East Village and regularly walk through the park that occupied mythical space in my adolescent mind. To me, there’s still a bit of the old energy—manifested, mainly, in the options for eating and drinking. There’s no way to fully portray a place with a list, but here, a guide to accessing adolescent excitement in the neighborhood’s current lifecycle.

Amor y Amargo
443 E. 6th St.
For those who love bitters or those looking to adapt their palates, Amor y Amargo is a must-visit on the New York cocktail circuit. Go early, while it’s not yet crowded, because—yes—it’s tiny, and you’ll want to be able to ask questions about the extensive selection.

Bua Bar
122 St. Marks Pl.
After the fall of St. Dymphna’s, that St. Mark’s bar with cheap drinks and a relentlessly excessive vibe, its neighbor Bua Bar has taken up the mantle as an easygoing destination—but with a bit more polish on the cocktails and the interiors, plus a short but very solid food menu. The tempeh BLT, in particular, soaks up booze rather well.

178 E. 7th St.
Housemade breads, comforting bowls and good Wi-Fi make this hole-in-the-wall a gem for easy nourishment and a spot to get some work done.

At beer bar Proletariat, above, staff can guide guests through the beer list with ease. Photo credit Matt Furman

440 E. 9th St.
The best vegan confections, macarons, cookies and cakes in the city are to be found in this shop just a few doors down from Superiority Burger.

Dun-Well Doughnuts
102 St. Marks Pl.
The East Village outpost of Bushwick’s beloved vegan doughnut shop doesn’t announce the lack of dairy or eggs in its products, and they don’t need to: Any omnivore will be fooled.

Holiday Cocktail Lounge
75 St. Marks Pl.
Everything old is new again. This classic East Village bar was resurrected a few years ago to become a favored industry haunt.

Lovers of Today
132½ E. 7th St.
Behind and beneath the longtime neighborhood staple Niagara, a neon heart shows the way to a bar labyrinth.

For truly innovative small plates and a wine list that surprises without alienating the uninitiated, stop into Ruffian, above, a tiny bar that feels like a great secret. Photo credit Louise Palmberg

Málà Project
122 1st Ave.
For true spice in the neighborhood, head over to the dry-pot specialists at Málà Project, where great design also provides Instagram opportunity.

102 St. Marks Pl.
This skinny beer bar provides a wide range of options for craft beer beginners and nerds, plus a staff that can guide guests through the list with ease.

125 E. 7th St.
For truly innovative small plates and a wine list that surprises without alienating the uninitiated, stop into this tiny (a trend in the East Village) bar that feels like a great secret.

Superiority Burger
430 E. 9th St.
While you probably won’t get a seat at the tiny, affordable vegetarian restaurant, take your yuba sandwiches and gelato down the block to Doc Holliday’s and pair them with cheap beer.

Xi’an Famous Foods
81 St. Marks Pl.
Sure, you can find a Xi’an everywhere nowadays, but that doesn’t mean any location should be taken for granted. It’s right next to Holiday Cocktail Lounge and provides a fast-food option whenever restaurants are packed.